Estibaliz Urresola Solaguren’s delicate debut feature 20,000 Species of Bees – for which its young star Sofía Otero won the Silver Bear for Best Leading Performance at 2022’s Berlin Film Festival – is a tender, heartfelt drama about an eight-year-old’s indelible summer holiday of self-discovery.
Otero plays a trans girl, who rejects her given name Aitor, perplexed by the gender binaries that rule her world, where boys and girls are divided at playtime, and relatives chide her long hair. An inquisitive soul with a thirst for knowledge, she loves to learn new words and skills, and questions why she doesn’t feel certain of who she is when it seems so easy for her older siblings.
Ane (Patricia López Arnaiz), her mother, takes the children back to her hometown in the Basque Country for the summer, where Cocó (as the child goes by for a while) spends hours with her great aunt, the village beekeeper, watching her work and asking her to define unfamiliar terms. It’s here that Cocó feels most free to be herself. While Ane is well-meaning, she is distracted by her own troubles, and is going through an identity crisis of her own.
Reminiscent of Céline Sciamma’s Tomboy in its considered authenticity, 20,000 Species of Bees offers a child’s eye view of growing up, delving into its lead’s struggles with humanity and grace.